Korea's (Impossibly) High Beauty Standards
After moving to Seoul from the United States, one teen shares what she's observed.
It's a no brainer when it comes to what "beautiful" looks like. Or so I'd thought. These days, we're bombarded left and right with pictures of Kylie Jenner lips, weight loss teas, and perfectly airbrushed models sprawled on the cover of every magazine.
In America, it seems the pendulum is slowly swinging back. Body positivity shines on social media, which makes it easier for us to stop feeling like we have to look a certain way to be defined as "beautiful." Unfortunately, this isn't the case everywhere.
I wandered the streets of Seoul, wondering how everyone could look so alike. I'm not kidding; everyone has the same haircut, makeup, and clothes. Most people are tall and thin. In this homogeneous society, it's totally the norm to dress alike. In fact, many friends and couples wear coordinating outfits (earning the name, "couple tees"). That's all fine and dandy, but then I learned that people get picked on if they're different.
Anything that isn't trendy is denounced and made fun of. To accompany the "perfect style," women strive for the "perfect body": big eyes, double eyelids, small face, a "v-shape" chin, tall and thin nose, and of course, a thin body. (Cue loud sigh...) There's an over-saturated market offering "beauty enhancers," diet products, and plastic surgery. The practice is so normal that some students get double eyelid surgery as graduation gifts! According to the Korean Herald, as much as 50% of women under the age of 30 have had plastic surgery. I think it's cool that people are willing to talk about it and not feel ashamed. But, I hope teens can feel like they have a choice whether to go under the knife rather than doing it just because they're pressured to look "perfect."
You may have already heard of Korea's weight obsession. Starting at a young age, many girls are told to keep their weight low. They're constantly told that "skinny is beautiful." Many Koreans tend to be very straightforward and blunt. I understand that, but I do not understand how some teens are told that they "look fat" or that they "gained a little" by their own friends and family.
This is a hard fact of social life here, and for many, it means skipping meals and keeping up with the newest diets. Much of the clothing, especially those sold in street shopping districts, is labeled "free size." This is equivalent to Brandy Melville's "one size fits all." Need I say more?
So, though it makes sense that Korea's obesity rate is at 3.20%, as opposed to 33.9% in the U.S., this comes at a steep cost. Choose between humiliating shopping experiences and being rejected by your peers, or extreme dieting and plastic surgery? It's constantly a looming question over teens here.
Korea is known for its notoriously high beauty standards. Though this comes with a few pluses (amazing makeup products!), they don't outweigh the negatives. As a teen girl myself, I know what body image is, and what being self-conscious means. But looks don't define who I am, and it shouldn't for the girls here (or anywhere!). I definitely expect to see changes in the beauty scene here, and I hope to have something to do with it. I want to spread the message that every girl is beautiful.
By Soo Hyun, 16